Joe Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar Clean Energy Revolution relies on the impossible occurring over the next few years. Whether he promises to somehow make wind and solar power replace fossil fuels or his nonsensical commitment to electric vehicles along with one-half million charging stations, both depend entirely on the availability of effective, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly batteries for the storage of electrical energy. Perhaps such batteries exist in Joe’s imagination, but they do not exist in the real world. 

And where would these magical batteries come from? China, of course. Chemical companies in China are responsible for four-fifths of the world’s output of advanced batteries’ raw materials. And who controls the processing of most of the critical materials needed for batteries, things like rare earth, lithium, cobalt, and graphite? You guessed it: China. Indeed, out of 136 lithium-ion plants planned for 2020 needed to produce lithium-ion batteries that will supposedly be powering Joe’s ‘revolution,’ 101 of them will be in China. So, the supply chain for Biden’s expensive plans will originate in China. Thanks, Joe, we really needed that!

As discussed in previous America Out Loud articles, real environmentalists should strongly oppose these plans because practically no health, safety, or environmental safeguards exist in China when they mine and process lithium and cobalt. Even the left-leaning Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that “there have been mass fish kills related to lithium mining in Tibet.” Besides, the public’s health and safety risks resulting from the use of lithium-ion storage batteries are extreme. 

We are reminded of the many warnings we have seen and heard on the use, storage, and safe disposal of electric lithium-ion batteries. In Engineering school, we were taught about Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will, at the worst time, and in the worst direction. This law applies in spades to the use of lithium-ion batteries. If you need a reminder, here are some headlines from around the world.

  • Bloomberg, “ Another lithium-ion battery has exploded, this time at an energy-storage complex in the US,by Brian Eckhouse and Mark Chediak, April 23, 2019, updated on April 24, 2019: “Battery exploded at plant in Arizona; two others were shut. Arizona utility regulator calls for ‘thorough investigation.” “At least 21 fires had already occurred at battery projects in South Korea. But this latest one, erupting on Friday at a facility owned by a Pinnacle West Capital Corp. utility in Surprise, Arizona, marked the first time it has happened in America since batteries took off globally.”
  • South Korea: 3-years ago passed new regulation “To Strengthen Battery Safety Rules After 7 Fires.” There are many reports of fires and explosions in S. Korea related to Lithium-Ion Batteries. 
  • The USA, some recent events:

Safety is a relative term, and in the articles cited above, it’s used in comparative terms, such as “to make it safer” or “to improve safety.” It is repeated so often by the many authors that they seem compelled to convince us that the lithium-Ion batteries are safe.

The sought-after goal is to have the sun/wind first charge the batteries and, at the same time, produce some electricity for the customers. When they are fully charged, the sun/wind will provide electricity to customers. The batteries would ideally provide the back up so that fossil fuel back up plant can be eliminated.

But what if there’s no wind or sun for several days and batteries are good for two, three, maybe four hours a day? Meanwhile, people in homes, businesses, offices, and hospitals still need electricity to be safe and stay alive. 

Electrical utility storage batteries are not unique, and all are built with the same underlying architecture. For example, the latest/most powerful Tesla battery, 102KWh, comprises about 8,200 individual batteries, each a bit larger than a standard AA battery. They are bundled and sealed into a subunit with a cooling system added for safety. Eight or 12 or any number of these subunits are then stacked and connected to make up the required working units. This 102KWh Tesla battery measures about 7 foot by 4 foot by 7 inches and weighs about 1,200 lbs.

And they are costly. For a typical application, say a 450 MW plant and 1,500MWh, you would need about 16,000 of these Tesla batteries for a total battery weight of about 10,000 tons plus the housings, structures, connecting, and controlling equipment. Then, depending on how they are used/cycled, they may need replacement every three to four years. If we assume 3.5 services years and a plant is designed for 25-year service life, a total of more than 110,000 of these batteries will be needed. Is Tesla using the ‘Gillette model’ to sell the installation batteries, then make a fortune off the subsequent spare batteries? 

Let’s wrap up this insanity. For this one typical plant, we have more than tripled the cost of electricity so that batteries can be used as back up to solar power for a few hours per day. Our industry leaders have doubled-tripled their sales, our politicians got re-elected, our delusional do-gooders are feeling noble, and what did we get for it?

In his Laudeat et Jubilat, Mozart gave specific instructions to the conductor; “Allegro ma non-troppo,” or play it happily, but not so much.  In backing up inconsistent wind and solar energy with battery storage, we give these same instructions to the Governors, Utility, and Industry captains. They happily receive the mega-million-dollar contracts to build solar and wind plants. Then they buy the delusion that storage batteries will pick up the slack when the Sun is not shining, and the wind is not blowing. They will fail with spectacular shortfalls, resulting in soaring electricity costs for consumers, nationwide blackouts, environmental degradation, and greater danger to everyone involved.

This will be the legacy of Joe Biden’s so-called Clean Energy Revolution.